Everywhere I went last week, people asked: "Well, what do you think of it, then?" The "it" was my shiny new iPad, aka the Jesus Tablet.
Everywhere I went last week, people asked: “Well, what do you think of it, then?” The “it” was my shiny new iPad, aka the Jesus Tablet, but I stoutly declined to give an answer. I’ve been around long enough to be suspicious of first reactions to fancy gizmos, so I resolved to live with the device for a week, using it as much as possible and recording my impressions in an online diary before reaching any conclusions. The week is now up, so here goes.
First, the iPad is insanely, eye-wateringly expensive. So if you’re thinking of getting one, find a friend who’s going to the US and get him or her to buy you one over there. I paid nearly £700 for the top-of-the-range 64GB Wi-Fi+3G model, based on many bitter years of discovering the two great truths of life: you can never be too thin and you can never have too much computer memory. In this case, however, I was wrong. Everything I needed to do with the iPad could have been done with the base model (16GB, Wi-Fi only, £429). So I have effectively just blown £270. I’ll put it down to experience. For everyone else, the message is caveat lector.
Second, it’s really just an iPod Touch on steroids. I’ve had a Touch for ages and it’s a wonderful little device that functions as an email machine, occasional web browser, podcast and music player, calculator, internet radio receiver, ebook reader and more besides. It’s small enough to slip into a shirt pocket and goes everywhere with me.
The iPad looks gorgeous to people who haven’t ever experienced an iPod Touch or an iPhone. But to those familiar with Apple kit, it’s just an engorged version of the former. There are some apps that will only run on the iPad, but few would justify the increase in price and bulk.
And the bulk matters: the iPad is heavy—680g. This may not seem much, but after you’ve been holding it for a couple of hours while browsing the web or reading an ebook, believe me, you really feel it.
Many people have remarked on how good the display is and they’re right: it’s bright, crisp and renders colours beautifully. But it has one big drawback: it’s almost unusable in bright light, so if you’re thinking of using it to read an ebook on a Mediterranean beach, forget it. The battery life may be great (10 hours, minimum) but the readability in those conditions ain’t. And because it’s a touch-screen, the iPad gets smeared with fingermarks. This doesn’t affect the usability too much, but if you’re someone who likes shiny things to stay shiny, prepare to be obsessive.
The essence of the iPad is that it’s a good device for passive “consumption” of pre-prepared multimedia content. That’s why the old media dinosaurs are salivating about it: it seems to offer them a way of regaining control of the customer—and of ensuring that s/he pays for content. And one can understand why they are so charmingly deluded about this: all apps have to come through the iTunes store and can be charged for. No wonder Murdoch and Co love the device. They think it’ll rescue them from the wild west web, where people believe that content should be free. Yeah, and pigs will also fly in close formation.
Jumping through hoops
It’s when one tries to use the iPad for generating content that its deficiencies become obvious. The biggest flaw is the absence of multitasking, so you have to close one app to open another, which is a bit like going back to the world of MS-DOS. Email, using the on-screen virtual keyboard, works fine, and if you buy Apple’s text-processing app, Pages, then you can create documents. But the hoops one has to go through to pull existing documents in for editing are ludicrously convoluted and there’s no way one can easily print from the device.
And the apps are crippled in some ways; after importing a long Word document into Pages, for example, I found that all its footnotes had been stripped out. A presentation imported into the Keynote app came with some of the images removed. And so on.
In the end, a week with the iPad left me with two over-riding impressions. The first is a renewed appreciation of my laptop, which has all the tools I need for a productive life. The second is a conviction that what Apple has done is to legitimise a new format. Just as the iPhone showed the world that phones should be powerful, handheld computers that could incidentally make voice calls, the iPad may convince people that henceforth computers should be fashioned from a single piece of aluminium.
If so, then the next installment of the computing future starts here. - guardian.co.uk